In the Habits of Health Transformational System, we often talk about how we are working against our evolutionary programming. The tools that once kept us safe from predators and helped us to seek out the calories we desperately needed each day are out of place in our modern society. We aren’t hiding from sabertooth tigers, and we have more food available to us than our bodies will ever need.
And this is one of the biggest challenges: Our brains are wired to favor immediate rewards over long-term ones, which means that we have to train ourselves to think differently about the choices we make.
In other words, the temptation to eat that candybar right now is more powerful than our desire to reach our healthy weight at some point in the future. We just aren’t good at long-term thinking, and that can disrupt your journey to optimal wellbeing.
Present-Self vs. Future-Self
Our two selves value things very differently. Your future-self says you want to lose 60 lbs and get 8 hours of sleep, but when it comes time to act on those long-term health goals (which you could also define as rewards), we have to choose between eating a salad and not eating that candybar. We have to choose to start our bedtime routine instead of staying up to watch our favorite shows.
Your present-self values the immediate return above all else and has little regard for potential long-term rewards.
How can we overcome a natural tendency to discount the value of long-term health in order to help you avoid the daily temptations that are ever-present in our crazy lives?
Narrow the Gap
The first step: If we narrow the gap between our future and present self, we can conquer the Stone Age programming that often frustrates us and holds us back. In other words, if we make the reward for a long-term choice feel more immediate, we can more easily make healthy choices.
There are a couple of ways we can do that. First, we can take an action that provides both immediate benefit and long-term benefit and connect them to create immediate and long-term reward. As a result, we turn future consequences into present consequences.
We know that 20 minutes of activity provides long-term benefits in reducing the risk of disease and also allowing us to live longer. In addition, studies have shown that 20 minutes of activity have an immediate effect of boosting our mood for 12 hours. We can now connect a long-term benefit to an immediate reward and establish a new healthy habit installation.
We could also go one step further and tie a negative consequence to making the unhealthy choice. For example, if you have an exercise buddy who meets you at the gym and helps to hold you accountable, the pain of having to cancel and let them down and help to push you forward when you might be tempted to skip that workout.
Build Your Own Habit Loops
As you apply this to your life and find your own unique ways of making healthy choices more appealing, please share your insights with us! The Habits of Health Community has no shortage of creativity, and I’m always amazed by what our community creates with the Habits of Health.